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The economist Mancur Olson (1932-1998) and political scientist Theodore Lowi (b. 1931) are two American social scientists whose names are generally associated with the criticism of special interest groups in democratic politics. Olson has made important contribution toward the study of pressure groups and the forces they have to contend with or exert. Lowi’s work deals with the takeover of democratic governments by lobbies and how takeover of different aspects of government policies by pressure groups with vested interests leads to an ever increasing government.

In his book The end of liberalism: the second republic of the United States Lowi showed how interest groups took over the US Government, forcing government expansion and the formation of government agencies catering to the demands of the interest groups[1].

Lowi criticized the orthodox idea of democratic politics that the bargaining between different interest groups is the basis of a functioning democracy. He questions the naïve belief that a collection of all the interest groups in a society can result in a complete representation of the public’s interests or that if one interest group gains power within a government that is disproportionate to the size of its constituents, another interest group will automatically form to offset its power[2].

Lowi shows how the established interest groups can use their greater powers to prevent the formation of rival interest groups or prevent them from ever having their voices heard in the corridors of power[3].

According to Lowi, groups representing special interests gain control over specific aspects of governments and the powers of the government are parceled out to these special interest groups. For example the parliamentary committees to regulate farming may become dominated by members of the parliament from agricultural areas. In this case, instead of turning out legislation to regulate the farmers for the collective good of all citizens, the government passes out legislation that benefits the farmers at the expense of the public (Ginsberg and Sanders 1990).

The end result of the presence of powerful lobbies is that the government is unable to pass any laws regulating trade, production or financing and the pressure groups are able to put an end to any legislation that threatens to change the status quo. The government thus, becomes a tool of maintaining an unjust social order where the public benefit is abandoned for the sake of the interests of the few (Lowi, The end of liberalism: the second republic of the United States 1979).


[1] Lowi, T. J. The end of liberalism: the second republic of the United States. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979.

[2] Lowi 1979, 1

[3] Lowi 1979,1

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